Gabriel Perna | April 6, 2020
For Teladoc CEO Jason Gorevic, the demand curve for telehealth didn’t have an inflection point. It skipped over the inflection point and the whole demand curve shifted up.
For a decade, Gorevic said people would ask him about the inflection point for telehealth. When was it going to happen? For whatever reason, consumers weren’t taking to the technology. But thanks to COVID-19, they have no choice. He said that 60% of Teladoc’s consumers today are new to virtual visits. In mid-March, the company saw a 50% surge in usage—and it’s only gone up from there. What’s more, people are relying on telehealth in all areas of care.
“We have seen a dramatic increase in dermatology cases coming to us because all the dermatologist’s offices are closed and nobody wants to go to into a dermatologist office right now. Our mental health care services are surging because people are scared, anxiety is increasing, depression is increasing, people are worried about job security and things like that. It’s really across the full spectrum of care that we deliver that we’re seeing an increase,” Gorevic said at the Health Evolution Pandemic Response Virtual Gathering.
Gorevic was joined by CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo, Google Health VP David Feinberg, MD, and Cambia CEO and President Mark Ganz for the discussion, “Changing Public Behavior: Pandemic Education and Communication.” The four health care leaders found that in some ways, they have been preparing for this type of moment for the last decade, whether it’s investments in technology, consumerism or attempts to increase access to care.
“We’ve got to find a silver lining here. This has moved people to getting care online and in ways that are more convenient. And that’s something all of us have been working on for a long time,” said Feinberg.
“The only victor in war is medicine. We’re in a war right now. It happens to be with a virus, but the victor in this could be medicine because we are able to do things, such as having doctors be licensed across state lines, that we’ve spent years trying to do. This disaster allowed us to get that taken care of. We keep thinking about what’s the future and what are the tools we can build to help these incredible providers take care of people in a better way,” he added.
Data and analytics investments
Merlo said the company’s investments into analytics have helped them with supply chain management for both front-of-the-store and pharmacy inventories. Also, thanks to its merger with Aetna, it can identify a member’s “next-best” action based on their individual needs and requirements. These predictive analytics allow CVS Health to be more proactive in not only helping these members achieve better outcomes, but in the face of COVID-19, also contacting them at home to make sure they’re being taken care of in terms of medication and social determinants.
David Feinberg, MD, Google Health
“For many years, we lived in a world where data was used to be reactive and after the fact. We’ve really been working to see around the corner and use data to prevent things from happening,” said Merlo. “The worst thing we can have to compound with this crisis is those with chronic diseases falling off their medication and the unintended consequences that can come from that. Looking at our Aetna members, we’re particularly concerned about who may have a risk at this point in time and proactively reaching out to them…not just around medical care but the social factors around them too.”
Google is similarly using predictive analytics to help provider partners be more proactive about patient care. In one example, Feinberg said machine learning algorithms can help identify acute kidney injuries before they even happen with a 90% accuracy rate. While this can be useful, especially during a pandemic, there are questions to be answered around integrating this kind of tool into a clinician’s workflow and earning patient trust.
“We can’t do it if we don’t have the trust because if people don’t believe that we’re going to do good with it and use it to allow their caregivers to work at a higher level…it will be a complete waste. For us building that trust is absolutely crucial because you don’t want to give me information if I’m not giving you value back,” Feinberg said. “We’ve got to treat this information as sacred.”
Lessons for when it’s over
Earning patient trust as health care rapidly virtualizes will be one of the many lasting lessons that are important to remember after the pandemic is over, these health care CEOs say. Another aspect to remember, Gorevic said, are the temporary regulatory changes to increase access in response to COVID-19 that cannot be reinstated or the whole movement will be lost.
“It’s incumbent upon us to not see this as a temporary wartime crisis where we deal with it now and then take four steps back when it’s over. We have to continue to push them forward. Consumers, caregivers and providers cannot accept anything less than that,” he said.
Merlo said another learning he hopes is derived from this pandemic is people seeing health care from more of a proactive viewpoint, rather than just something you only care about when you’re sick. “Social distancing is preventive in nature and I think we have an opportunity to carry that mentality forward to protect your health not just when you’re sick,” he said.
Feinberg echoed that statement and took it a step further. “I hope the world now understands how important is to take care of our communities and that public health matters. It matters more than anything we’re doing so that people have food and housing, literacy and kids aren’t subject to adverse childhood events. Those are the drivers of really high health care costs,” he said. “I hope we come out of this with a concept that we’re all in this together and health is a community issue.”